Risk Factors You Might Be Able to Change

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Breast Cancer ReductionYour personal risk for breast cancer depends on a number of factors. Some risk factors are part of your personal or family history. You can't change these.


Other risk factors are related to your lifestyle and can be changed. You might be able to make choices that change your risk factors, improve your health and reduce the chance that you will have breast cancer.


While researchers know there are risk factors that increase the chance that a person will develop breast cancer, they are still learning how these risk factors affect cells and cause cancer to develop in some people.


So we know there are ways to reduce the chance that a person will develop breast cancer, but we do not know how to completely eliminate the chance of having breast cancer.


Here are some risk factors that you might be able to change:


Drinking Alcohol


Drinking alcohol has been linked to an increased risk for breast cancer. Women who have one drink a day have a small increase in risk. Women who have two to five drinks that contain alcohol a day have a greater risk (1½ times more). The American Cancer Society advises women who choose to drink to have no more than one drink per day. Learn more about substance abuse and check out a substance abuse self-test and learn about the benefits of drinking less and how to reduce drinking.


Being Overweight


Gaining weight when you are an adult can increase your risk of having breast cancer. If you are a woman who has gone through menopause, the risk of breast cancer with weight gain is even greater. For your health, it is important to maintain a healthy weight throughout your life. Find out how your body mass index (BMI) affects your health and determine your BMI and learn about weight management. Talk with your health care provider about how to reduce or maintain your weight. Ask about how a healthy weight is helpful to you. Visit our Wellness page for tips on healthy eating.


Being Inactive


Taking part in regular physical activity can decrease your risk of having breast cancer. This is even more important for women who have gone through menopause. While researchers aren't sure how much exercise is needed, the American Cancer Society advises adults to get at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity five or more days of the week.


Take a look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for physical activity for everyone. Make sure to include all three types of exercise (aerobic, weight training, and stretching) in your routine each week. See the following websites for more about these:

Being active doesn't always require structured physical exercise every day. Just by moving more throughout your day, such as taking a walk with a friend or using the stairs instead of the elevator, you can increase your activity, burn more calories and get results like those of structured exercise. UW Health has resources available to help you start an exercise routine and tips on how to fit activity into your everyday life. Many people are healthy enough to start an exercise routine. Learn what you should consider before starting an exercise routine.


Using Birth Control Pills


Current or recent use of birth control pills slightly increases your risk for developing breast cancer. For women aged 40 to 49, there is an approximate 1.3-times increased risk of developing breast cancer if they are taking birth control pills; a risk that decreases if they stop use of the pills. If you are thinking about going on or off of birth control, talk with your health care provider about the benefits and risks for you.


Breast Feeding


Breast feeding decreases the number of menstrual cycles in a woman's lifetime, which reduces her risk for breast cancer. This is due to less exposure to hormones. Breast feeding for up to one year appears to reduce the risk of breast cancer.


Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy


Estrogen with progestin use increases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer and dying from it. The longer women use these, the higher the risk. Women who take estrogen with progestin for over five years and continue to use these have twice the risk of having breast cancer. Once a woman stops taking these, her risk for breast cancer decreases and is back to normal after five to 10 years. Visit the Susan G. Komen website to learn more about hormone use after menopause and breast cancer risk.


Visit the Susan G. Komen website table or visit Cancer.gov and Cancer.org to learn more about breast cancer risk factors.